Refugee, asylum-seeker or immigrant?

Do you know the difference between an internally displaced person, a stateless person, a refugee, an asylum seeker, an illegal and legal immigrant?

If you don’t, do you still have opinions on the number of refugees in your country, or how about the number of immigrants? Maybe you call them all foreigners?

I believe in education, so if you want to know the difference, let me help you.

According to the 1951 refugee convention a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” (UNHCR, 2013 b). Refugee is a status that a person is given after a going through a national asylum system.

An internally displaced person is someone who have been forced to flee, either because of the same reason as a refugee, or because of natural disasters, but they haven’t crossed the border of their home countries (UNHCR, 2013 e).

Asylum-seeker is a person who hasn’t yet been given a decision on whether their experience and reasons for leaving their home country are enough to give them refugee status (UNHCR, 2013 c). This procedure can sometimes take time and asylum-seekers within the European Union can’t decide which country should go through their application (even though countries within the union has their own measurement and do make different decision for similar applications). An asylum-seeker in an European Union member country can be forced to move to another country if their application is deemed to be processed somewhere else. Even if an asylum-seeker wants to appeal a decision, they have to leave the country in which they are staying (Migrationsverket, 2012).

When many people are fleeing a country, it’s impossible to make individual decisions. Groups of people can then be decided to be prima facie refugees. An example is people now leaving Syria (UNHCR, 2013 c).

If an asylum-seeker doesn’t get a refugee status, he or she becomes an undocumented immigrant if s/he chooses to stay in the country and doesn’t have a proper visa to do so.

A migrant is someone moving to another country. It can be a country in which you are a citizen or a country you aren’t. If you have a citizenship, a valid visa or you’re moving within the European Union, you’re a legal immigrant in the country you move to. If you do not have the necessary “papers” and you’re not allowed to stay in the country you’re in, you’re considered an undocumented immigrant.

A stateless person can also be any of the previous mentioned group of people, but doesn’t have to. Being stateless is what it sounds like; a person who doesn’t have a citizenship in any country. This can happen because of discrimination against minorities, after countries become independent or after war and occupancy. Being stateless comes with big risks of discrimination, and the risk of not having one’s human rights met is also very large (UNHCR, 2013 d).

I think it’s very important that we know the definitions and the difference between these groups of people. How can we otherwise voice our opinion concerning political questions like immigration policies?

All facts and definitions come from UNHCR’s website. It’s brilliant and filled with information regarding refugees. If you want to learn more, that’s definitively the place to start.

UNHCR. (2013 b). Refugees. Available at: 2013-10-23. 11.20 am.

UNHCR. (2013 c). Asylum-seeker. Available at: 2013-10-22. 18.30

UNHCR. (2013 d). Stateless Persons. Available at: 2013-10-24. 12.30.

UNHCR. (2013 e). Internally displaced people. Available at: 2013-10-24. 13.00.

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